Throughout your karate journey you will be practicing unarmed combat. You will practise this during kihon, bunkai practise, kumite and self-defense training. Beyond this, you likely already know that the term ‘kara-te’ translates as ‘empty hand’. So the question that rises is, “If I ever find myself in a self-defence situation, should I plan on going empty handed?”
It is commonly known that the ‘te’ in ‘Kara-te’ means hand. The ‘Kara’ part originally meant China. So kara-te translated as ‘China-hand’. In 1936, the Okinawa masters decided that the term China was no longer appropriate because their art no longer resembled Chinese arts. While they had taken many principles from Chinese arts, these had been modified and fused with their own indigenous style that it had truly evolved to become a pure Okinawan art.
So the kanji that symbolised the ‘Kara’ component was changed to one that translated as ‘Empty’. So kara-te translated as ‘empty-hand’.
Because of this translation however, people often presume that karate means ‘no weapons’. Therefore, when confronted with a real life situation, most karate-ka will naturally resort to focusing on using their body as a weapon in self-defence.
While it is true, by-and-large karate is indeed an unarmed form of self-defence, it does not mean that a karate-ka should neglect using weapons.
To begin with, a number of the old Okinawa masters (who formed the name ‘empty hand’) actually trained with weapons. And the majority of the weapons practised were regular household items or farming tools. Even a number of kata practised today were also practised with weapons.
Secondly, we need to remember that karate does not teach a set of appropriate responses to a limited number of self-defence scenarios. Rather, it teaches self-defence principles that can work in any situation. Therefore, whether you are unarmed, or have something in your hand, the principles found in karate can be used identically.
If there is anything in your vicinity that could be used as a weapon (eg a chair, a bin lid, a jacket or belt, a handbag, a book, car keys etc) then be sure to grab it.
You don’t need to be trained to use it because the principles of karate can still come out. Weapons after all are no more than an extension of the human body and karate’s objective is to teach us how to use our body effectively.